Visual Software Brings the Joy of Stats: 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

If you believe (as we do) that visual software brings data insight and analysis to life,  you’ll definitely envy the magic used by Hans Rosling in his video presentation, “The Joy of Stats.”

The whole program is an hour long, and it offers a fast, often funny tour of cutting edge techniques in statistical analysis and presentation.

But you can also see Rosling’s tour de force sample presentation on YouTube. In just four minutes, the legendary analytics guru tells a complex story of the modern world, explaining the relationship between life expectancy and income as it unfolds over 200 years in 200 countries.

Underlying the presentation – 120,000 numbers, organized into a statistical narrative that shows how complex relationships change over long periods of time.

Through the power of image overlays, the video depicts Rosling “creating” a time-animated scatter plot graph in what appears to be real space. You watch as data bubbles (color-coded to reflect country group, e.g., Europe, Asia, etc., and sized to reflect population) rise and fall, grow and shrink, forge ahead and lag behind to dramatize changes over time, highlight emerging patterns, and reveal persistent relationships.

Rosling is the guiding spirit behind the Gapminder Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on fact-based education about global issues. Gapminder has developed Trendalyzer, the software that made “moving bubble charts” possible – and popular. Google purchased Trendalyzer in 2007 and incorporated the program into its Google Docs spreadsheet under the name Motion Chart.  (For more about this process, take a look at this post.)

Although the technology is not brand new, these charts – which tell a high-level story that makes sense of huge datasets and long timeframes – have generally been used to view world-sized data. But as corporations and local governments have to deal with more and more data, it’s likely they’ll also be searching for new and better approaches to visualization.

Most of us won’t be able to duplicate Rosling’s movie-magic strategy for bringing charts to life, but everyone can experiment with visual software and motion-enhanced charts. Download desktop software from Gapminder or play around with Motion Chart at Google Public Data.  And here’s a tutorial on using Motion Chart in Google Docs.

Also worthwhile:  an informative audio interview with Rosling – 10 minutes of fascinating insight into the educational power of data visualization.